WhatsApp Poses a Future Threat to Corporate Collaboration
I'm here to warn the entire corporate collaboration industry to watch your backs because the era of consumer collaboration is coming.
This week of February has been filled with some big events. First the Kerravala family went on vacation to Aruba (the country, not Aruba Networks, as some of you have asked). For those of you not lucky enough to be part of this family, you may have enjoyed February school vacation (in MA) or settled for the Lync Conference in Las Vegas. While I'm not at the Lync Conference, I have been following some of the news from the event, and all of us that cover the collaboration market have been more than impressed by the growth that Lync has shown over the past few years--as I wrote in my 2013 wrap-up blog, last year was "The Year of Lync".
Why is there this much excitement and hype over Lync? We've all been fascinated with the momentum of Lync--somewhere between 10 Million or 30 Million seats based on whose numbers you believe; we've all had channel partners tell us about the interest they've seen as well; and we've all seen Microsoft Lync as a huge threat to the traditional UC vendors such as Cisco and Avaya.
Well, I'm here to warn the entire corporate collaboration industry to watch your backs because the era of consumer collaboration is coming. To date, the BYOD wave has been primarily device-focused, but now that the devices are here, we should think of the BYO era shifting to apps, including the collaboration apps, so enter the BYO-A era.
And now Facebook has made a splash in the collaboration market by plunking down a whopping $19 billion to buy 5-year-old WhatsApp. For those that don't know WhatsApp, it is to consumer messaging what Lync has been to the corporate collaboration world. WhatsApp is a mobile application that allows its users to chat, group chat and call one another. The app also allows users to send photos and videos easily, as well as share location information. It's not hard to imagine Facebook adding real-time video capabilities down the road. The app is cross-platform and works on all mobile devices, and has a much better interface than any of the native SMS tools.
Facebook has been trying to build its own messaging service to attract younger, highly mobile users, but has had limited success with the Facebook Messenger application. I think the failure of Facebook Messenger is that the company tried to replicate BlackBerry Messenger instead of developing a whole new type of messenger service. So instead of trying to compete with WhatsApp, Facebook chose to buy them.
While we're all awestruck by the rapid growth of Lync to 30 million seats (though that number is arguably high), WhatsApp has in a mere five years amassed 450 million users, of which 70% are active. So that's about 250 million active users. Compare this to Facebook itself, that has about 145 million daily active users, or the Microsoft-owned Skype with about 50 million. I actually don't think it's unreasonable to expect WhatsApp to be the first billion-user community.
I read through Eric Krapf's blog on Gurdeep Singh Pall's keynote, where the recently-returned head of the Skype-Lynce division talked about Microsoft's goal of creating universal communications, and how Microsoft will be focused on vendor interoperability through the support of Android tablets and Tandberg video systems.
I've heard similar messages from the likes of Avaya, Cisco and Polycom, and I can't express strongly enough how important multi-vendor, multi-device interoperability is for the health of the corporate UC platforms. I've said this before and I'll say it again: If corporate collaboration were easy to use, worked cross platform and actually worked for B2B use cases, it would create a rising tide that would lift this entire industry. Instead we expect organizations to either have to decide between vendors or somehow cobble together a multi-vendor solution. Then we applaud the vendors when they have the "vision" to focus on things that would actually make it easy for their customers to use the stuff.
Now I understand that applications like Facebook and WhatsApp are also islands--but they are really big islands. And because the community is so large, they have become de facto standards among the younger generation. As these users move through school and to the workplace, it's possible, even highly likely, they'll use the easy-to-use consumer tools instead of the corporate ones. Today the reason many workers use the likes of WhatsApp, Facebook, Skype, and Google Hangouts is because B2B usage is simple. In fact, I visited a small company last week that has made Hangouts its standard for all corporate communications--internal and external.
So again the message to the business collaboration vendors is: Stop thinking you can be the only set of tools a business needs and focus on interoperability and make it as easy as possible for customers to get the tools up and running. This will remove any need for workers to bring consumer applications in. In the meantime think of the threat if Facebook and Google actually created interoperability?